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Sell Software on a Shoestring

Yau Wei Liang

There are many talented people out there who have the ability to write scripts, but have limited funds — and are unsure of how or where to start distributing their script. Hopefully this article will help you earn some spare cash (or start a business that will one day be a multinational giant!), and get your script running on Websites around the world.

Writing the Script

First of all, you need to develop a script or program that delivers value to your target users. Make sure you take your time to plan and develop the script, and test it as much as you possibly can. Think of as many scenarios as possible that your customers might go through on a daily basis where your script might come in handy. And design the database and the script so that you can easily add more features to it over time.

If you’re unsure about what type of script to write, surf various community forums — especially around forums that interest you — and listen to what people ask for. Make sure you share the community’s interests. After all, there’s no point writing a script, providing support, and spending a lot of time on the project if you don’t have your heart in it from the word "go".

The other thing you can do is rely on your own personal experiences. In the past, did you ever need a script or service that wasn’t readily available? Have you ever run a business that required certain software, and the only available products were too expensive, or seemed too complicated? Run a search on your ideas, and find out what people charge now for alternative solutions. This will be an important part of your market research.

Setting Goals, and Market Research

Success depends on a few key elements, such as:

  • the quality of your script,
  • demand for your script, and
  • how you market your script.

So, if you intend to sell scripts as your main business, you’ll need to know if the idea you have is viable. Ask around to see if anyone you know would use your script, and research your competitors (if any) to see what they offer. Think about how you can offer the same solution in a different way (and be sure to differentiate your product to make it appear different from products that are available elsewhere).

Add a few features that don’t exist in the market, bundle the product up, and show how you’re different from — and better than — your competition. Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to do this: as a hobby? As a career? The answer to this question will determine the depth of your research.

If you have no direct competitors, look for businesses that offer substitute products. Check out their pricing, and the way they do business. Email them, posing as a customer, to discover how they work — and plan to do better if possible.

I’d recommend that you don’t quit your day job in order to sell the script that you are about to write, unless you can be almost certain (at least 95% sure) that sales of your script can support you (and your family if necessary).

Your Website — Your Business Place

When you do launch your product, you need to ensure that your site is designed well — and by this, I don’t mean that it just looks good. You need to make the site — its content, layout, navigation, etc. — clear and concise. Get to the point, and avoid anything that’s too fancy.

Your customer, believe it or not, will take the site design and aesthetic appeal into consideration when making their pre-purchase assessment (costs vs. benefits) of your script. For a quick fix, you can purchase templates from various sites, or, if you’re on a tight budget, then you can design your own Website.

Your customer will want to get to the information they seek on your site as quickly as possible. So I recommend you plan your site so that it takes your visitors a maximum 2 clicks from your homepage to get to the information they want. Place links at the top and bottom of each page so the customer does not have to scroll back up to browse your site. Make you content, and your site, easy to navigate!

You must also be sure to set the right META tags on each page of your ebsite. Aim to set keywords that are relevant to your script, and try to provide on each page a description that uses as many of those keywords as possible. Then change your Website’s title to contain the keyword that’s most relevant to your script. For example, if you’re writing a classifieds site, then you might set the title as "John’s Classifieds Software".

Although this may seem obvious, there are many sites that fail to do this. As a result, they don’t attract targeted traffic — and targeted traffic, as we all know, is gold. It’s better to get 10 targeted visitors then 1000 un-targeted visitors.

One more thing that you should consider is the text that you display on the Website. List clearly the benefits of your script — don’t just describe the features. Customers buy benefits; they don’t care about features as long as the script can do what they want it to. Many Websites make this mistake, so try not to do the same. And lastly, always check for spelling mistakes!

Once You’ve Launched

When you finally launch, the first thing you should do is submit your site to Hotscripts.com (then proceed to submit it to as many scripting portals as you can), and to DMOZ.org. Do this even before you get any customers, as it’ll take time for your site to be listed. If you have a budget, then you can sign up for targeted PPC traffic with the search engines that offer these services (eg. Overture.com). Google is a huge traffic generator, and I’d recommend that you try to optimise your search engine listings rather than pay for their AdWords Service.

Don’t just limit your submissions to Google or Yahoo! Or any single search engine. You’ll probably find that the majority of your traffic comes from Hotscripts.com and Google, though it can take up to 2 months to get a Google listing.

I don’t believe that banner exchange programs are the way to go. I wouldn’t recommend that you display a banner on your product sales site — I believe that it detracts from the brand equity you’re attempting to build.

Getting Your First Customers

When you first launch, you may receive emails from prospective customers who want to see your script in action on a few of your customer’s Websites. But you don’t have any customers! To avoid this situation, I’d suggest that you establish some sort of a customer base before you set industry rate pricing.

You’ll need to prove that the script works, so put up a demo or run a live version of the script on your site. SUN Microsystems used their own workstations to run their company, and in doing so, they proved to the world that their machines work. You should do the same — prove to the world that your script works.

Pricing for Penetration

You need to penetrate the market, and get your foot in the door, before you take on your competition. The best way to do this is by setting an extremely low price for your script. This approach is called Introductory Pricing (but don’t give your product away! That will only attract customers who want the script because it’s free, rather than because it actually meets their needs). Be prepared to offer free upgrades to these initial customers if you need an incentive to encourage them to purchase your script.

If you find that your competitors are offering a script that’s identical to yours for free, then you’ve probably entered the wrong industry (if your aim is to profit). If your competitors offer the same functionality for free, you have no choice but to match them. However, all may not be lost! In the future, you may decide to offer extra features at a price, like a "professional" version, for example. Keep a close eye on competitors, and be sure to plan ahead, so you know where your product’s going next.

Treat your Testers Well

If your script is wanted in the marketplace, then you will more than likely get a few testers during this initial period. These are people who’ll test your script for you without expecting any payment in return for their services. Though you may lose money at the start, make sure you provide these "customers" with the greatest support that they could ask for. How you treat your first few customers is what will determine your success or failure in the industry. You’ll need these customers to remember you, and recommend you to others. Ideally they’ll act as a point of referral for your future customers, so treat them well.

These are the customers that will also provide you with testimonials, bug reports, sample sites etc… Make sure they are treated very well and that everything is in working order for them. Install it for them if you need to and take the time to teach them how to use your script. Respect them, respect their business and they will respect you and get you business. You must be prepared to invest your time in this, if you are aiming for success.

Once You’re Up and Running…

Only after the launch stage is complete, and you feel that you have "enough" customers, can you end the introductory pricing and increase your price to reflect the market average. You’ll know when this feels right and seems reasonable — you’ll have developed a stable, proven script, and a wealth of customer testimonials to back it up.

Update your site with little bits of information (eg. news, new version releases, customer comments, etc.) as often as possible. Don’t completely revamp your site every day — this will only waste your time, and confuse your customers.

Remember that pricing is still very important. You don’t want to give customers the impression that you’re too cheap — serious buyers won’t purchase from you. On the other hand, you don’t want to set an incredibly high price, as no-one will buy from you. And, whatever price point you decide upon, you must show that you have a reason for setting that price. It doesn’t have to be an explicit reason: it could be implicit in the design of the site, the news, the number of features/add-ons etc. Make the value and benefits of your script overshadow the price — make yours an offer that no one can refuse!

Did I mention that the provision of detailed and quick support is essential when you launch? Don’t forget that prompt customer service is your only weapon against larger, more established companies.

Accepting Payments

There are 3 main ways by which you can accept payment for your script:

  1. check or money order,
  2. credit card, and
  3. cash.

Assuming that you’re on a tight budget, I recommend you start with Paypal until you have enough custom to make opening a third party merchant account (such as 2checkout or Clickbank — to name just a couple) worthwhile. The start-up cost at either 2checkout or Clickbank is under $50, so it’s not a bad idea to open an account. And eventually, if you do become successful, you can get your own merchant account and process credit cards for yourself.

Although your Paypal account can accept credit card payments, customers may get confused if you redirect them to Paypal to use their credit card. Therefore, I recommend that you send them through another gateway if they intend to pay using other means besides Paypal.

Most scripting companies accept payments via Paypal and credit card (rarely cash). And, dealing with these types of payments, you will receive fraudulent orders at some stage. Since your script’s a downloadable item, most people assume that they can download your program immediately if they can crack the payment stage. Therefore full automation of the payment and download process is not ideal.

I made the mistake of fully automating a site when I initially launched my own script, and as a result, I received a few fraudulent orders. Because it was fully automated, these people managed to download my script without paying for it! So learn from my mistake, and don’t fully automate the ordering process. You’ll probably find that most fraudulent orders come from the less developed countries — the fraudulent orders I received originated primarily from Pakistan, Indonesia and India.

Instead of complete automation, I recommend that you send your customers automated emails (or autoresponders) that advise them expect to receive access to download the script in around 24 hours. This should give you (or your merchant provider) enough time to check for ulent orders.

Update Customers

Once you have a few customers, you need to make sure that you keep them up to date with the latest developments of your script: new features, add-ons, extra scripts etc. Keep in constant contact with them if possible, and make them feel like "part of the family".

Start a mailing list and constantly update your site with the latest developments, to show potential customers that your business is maturing, and your script is slowly becoming more stable and better suited to their needs.

Stay Positive

Lastly, always be positive. Someone just hacked your script? That’s flattery! Solve it by writing a security patch. No sales for a few weeks? That’s a blessing — take a break, go for a walk, breathe some fresh air, or meet with friends.

Don’t despair! Sitting in front of a computer 24/7 isn’t exactly good for your health. You need to know how to relax, because your customers know when you are stressed — it filters through to them even when you don’t even notice it yourself.

There are many other strategies you can adopt as you launch your script for sale, but the one I’ve described here has the advantage that it can be done on a budget of next-to-nothing. The only thing you have to pay for is Web hosting, and hopefully, within the first few days of launch, you should have no problem earning that expense back.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful if you do exactly what’s outlined here — much of your success will depend on your personality, your drive to succeed, the reasons why you wrote the script. Your reason for writing your script should not be limited to "To make a million dollars". If it is, you’ve already failed.fraudtW